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Sandy Reay

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A Car and Snow Adventure

Another Car and Snow Adventure *

Damn the Dream *

Living the Dream

An excerpt from McCavity A Real-life Mystery Cat *

The Car that Saved My Life

Times I Didn't Die (Cars)

Times I Didn't Die: More Dreams

Times I Didn't Die: Pets

Times I Didn't Die: Photographs

Times I Didn't Die: Rafting

Times I Didn't Die: Snakes

Times I Didn't Die: St. Louis

Times I Didn't Die: The Dog Dream

 

Do you have stories about close calls?
Please contact Sandy

 

Times I Didn't Die

Micro-memoirs from newsletters
except where noted *

by Sandy Reay

I didn't plan to write micro-memoirs using themes. I wrote about memories that popped into my head, sometimes using photos for inspiration. I had a passion for odd foreign cars, and owned several. I also had a lot of pets. It made sense that pets and cars would feature prominently in my micro-memoirs.

It didn't occur to me that so many of them included times I almost died, even though I wrote The Car that Saved My Life as my first micro-memoir. And Damn the Dream is about dying in a dream, based on a true story.

Thanks to Dolora Reay for telling me to write about times I didn't die in my monthly newsletters. Now I now have a theme and a lot of micro-stories to tell.

     
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Sandy in deep snow near the yellow '72 Superbeetle

 

 

 

This story was featured in the June 2023 Newsletter.

 

 

 

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Have you ever had an adventure in a
blizzard or hurricane?
Please contact Sandy.

 

A Car and Snow Adventure

My husband and I drove from Denver to Chicago in our new '72 Super Beetle in April. We got caught in a blizzard. Visibility: zero. Speed: barely above zero. I read the map to tell him how to turn the wheel (ex. 2 o'clock) in how many 10ths of a mile. We could tell semis were passing us by the noise. A gust of wind slid us sideways off the road. We heard sounds like explosions ahead of us.

In a break in the wind, we saw a huge pileup of cars and trucks and the bottom of the exit ramp. We crept a few feet on the shoulder to the ramp and up as far as we could. A car facing the wrong way blocked our access to a crossroad in a rural area outside a city. We stayed in the car until we spotted a gas station in another break in the wind. I learned how early settlers could get lost walking from the house to the barn.

We locked the car and held hands to keep from losing each other while we trudged through the deep snow and swirling bitter wind. The station had three heated bays for repair work. We spent the night sitting on tires, eating vending machine food, and drinking sample wines that a salesman paid a local snowmobiler to "rescue" from his damaged car along with the stranded people they were rescuing.

Some truckers went out with the snowmobile club and brought in crates of oranges and apples for us. Later, the National Guard brought personnel carriers and took most of the people to an auditorium where they would have beds and hot food. We opted to stay in the garage—we got there early so we had tires. And wine. And no idea when they'd bring us back the next day. Our car wasn't damaged in the pileup. We could get on the road early.

In the morning under a sunny sky, we reached our car. The other car was gone, but ours wouldn't start: the engine compartment was packed with snow. The wind even blew snow in through the seal around the back window. When we finally got the car started and the windows scraped and defrosted, we still couldn't drive away. The tires froze to the road.

We'd befriended a college boy trying to get back to school at the end of Spring break. He pushed the car to help break it free and helped dig us out when we got stuck on the surface roads. Every underpass on the highway was clogged with incoming cars. To avoid the massive pile-ups under the bridges, we drove down the up ramps on the wrong side of the road and up the down ramps, crossing the grass separating the east- and west-bound lanes at the bottom and crossing on the bridges at the top.

The only mishap was mine. My boots were in the trunk of the car. My husband pulled over to the side of the road to let me out. Why? Habit for a highway-engineer. My first step out of the car was a long one, down the embankment toward the ramp we'd just driven up. I stopped by hitting a rock with my ankle and climbed up. My husband and the hitchhiker linked hands to reach me and helped pull me up the slick almost-vertical last few feet.

I settled in the back seat with snow boots and a swelling ankle. The hitchhiker got promoted to the front passenger seat. We dropped him off in Iowa and headed to my husband's family near Chicago. When we'd pushed the car to free the tires, the layer of frozen rubber had peeled off the tire and stayed on the road. The tires made thumping noises and small bumps for the rest of the trip.

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Times I Didn't Die: A Car and Snow Adventure #2

 

Spirit and Kody, my two collies
Spirit and Kody

 

This story was featured on my personal
Facebook page.

 

Have you ever had an adventure in a
blizzard?
Please contact Sandy.

 

Another Car and Snow Adventure *

I was driving home from St. Louis and stopped to get gas. The old man in the grubby station in a small Kansas town along I70 told me that the highwy would be shut down around Burlington, CO, and I should get a room in Goodland, just east of the state line. I took his advice and got the last motel room.

And, I called my ex-husband from a pay phone. “I need a favor. I'm stuck in Goodland, and I'm supposed to be at work by 8 am.”

At that time, my ex-husband was The Traffic Engineer for the CO Highway Department (aka CDOT). “What do you want me to do?”

“Send a snowplow so I can follow it back to Denver.” I wasn't completely serious, but it was worth a shot.

That was around 30 years ago. I think he's still laughing.

÷ § ÷

And that was all I wrote on my Facebook post. I wanted it to be humorous.

But, there's more to the story. I had two collies, Spirit and Kody, with me. If I hadn't taken that old-timer's advice, I might have tried to go on to Burlington, the next town. And been turned back to find no motel room. I might have tried to go on, in the blizzard, to towns east of Goodland.

Or, I might have tried to spend the night in my small Acura Integra with two dogs and the engine running. When the snow piled up, as it did that night, the exhaust would have gotten into the car. My dogs and I might have died for lack of oxygen.

If I didn't run the engine for heat, my dogs and I might have frozen to death.

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Living the Dream

This story was featured in the February 2023 Newsletter.

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Did you ever get to make a dream come true and find out it wasn't what you expected?
Please contact Sandy.

 

If you like this true story, you might want to check out Sandy's poem Coming to Colorado

 

This story, like others, is true. Memories formed the story. A recent writing class included lists as a way of writing non-fiction. That technique shaped the final* version of the story, which includes subtext.

* Final version: Is anything we write ever "final?"

 

Do you have a story that would work in the form of a list?
Would you like to share it?
Please contact Sandy.

 

Living the Dream

I worked for a company that was downsizing. They offered a year’s salary to anyone willing to quit. A friend had the opportunity to buy back her horse ranch in the mountains from her ex-husband. She never had to put the worm on the hook. I wriggled onto the bank and climbed the line.

Too late, I heard the old joke: How do you get a million dollars ranching? Start with five million.

My childhood dream of living on a horse ranch in the mountains didn’t last. But I learned a lot.

  1. Horse ranching in the mountains bears no resemblance whatsoever to anything you've ever seen on TV or in the movies.
  2. Pine trees do not automatically grow with branches high enough to ride under. You learn to duck. With luck, you only have to get hit in the head once.
  3. Don’t ride horses into a bog. Bogs like to hide in low areas with tall grass and ambush clueless riders.
  4. If a horse kicks you on your ribs above your belt line, it will crack a couple of ribs. You may not realize it if you are flying through the air at the time.
  5. Landing on your back in a bog is a lot like landing on Grandma’s feather bed, except for the horses bucking around you.
  6. If you’re lying on your back with a couple of cracked ribs, there are three things you can NOT do: you cannot breathe, you cannot call for help, and you cannot sit up. You can, however, roll onto your stomach to get up, if you are agile and sufficiently motivated.
  7. Not being able to breathe while lying on your back under four bucking horses is sufficient motivation.
  8. The second-worst thing you can do with two cracked ribs: walking your horse back to the barn in no-longer-new cowboy boots. The worst thing: riding your horse back to the barn. Whoever said, “If you get thrown, get right back on the horse,” has never been thrown in a bog. Or tried to get back in the saddle with mud-slick clothes and two cracked ribs.
  9. A good friend is one who will help you get on and off your horse even if you are covered in mud.
  10. A really good friend is one who will clean the mud off your saddle while you’re getting your ribs taped.
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McCavity the Mystery Cat under the bed
sneaking out from his safe place

Read more about
McCavity, A Real-life Mystery Cat

Have you ever had been near a sniper?
Please contact Sandy.

 

McCavity, A Real-life Mystery Cat, an excerpt *

My fiance helped me move out of my apartment. We loaded up both cars and hauled everything I owned to his apartment. After dinner, we went back for McCavity and one last check of the apartment. A helicopter was circling the area, and I heard some popping noises. A police officer said, "This area is closed off."

I couldn't leave my cat alone in the apartment; he needed to be fed. I needed to take my last few belongings and turn in my key. I parked a few blocks away, because several streets were blocked off, and we cut through spaces between buildings and down alleys to reach the back of my building. I found a few things I'd missed, which I stuffed in my purse, and picked up McCavity. My fiance grabbed the litter box and gave the key to my landlord. We walked up the street toward the police officer who had turned us away.

He pointed down the street. “Get out of sight. Now! That helicopter is searching for a sniper on the roof of one of the buildings. Someone's up there, shooting at people walking by.”

I worried more about losing my grip on McCavity.

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photograph of a yellow Ford Fiesta

This story was featured in the November 2022 Newsletter.

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Have you ever had an unexplainable experience with an inanimate object?
Please contact Sandy.

 

The Car that Saved My Life

I bought this Ford Fiesta from a friend in August, 1982. It was a safe, economical, and reliable car for the entire time I owned it, with one exception. One winter night, I drove to that friend' house for dinner. When I left to go home, the car wouldn't start. We popped the hood, and saw no reason for the problem. I tried starting it again. No luck. We went into the house to get out of the cold, talked about potential causes (none likely, except—maybe—the cold) and symptoms I might have missed (none).

"I'll give it one more try." The car started. I drove home via the divided highway that ran from Boulder to northwest Denver. When I topped the hill and looked toward Broomfield, I saw a flash of light and heard a loud explosion. By the time I reached Broomfield, the police had the southbound lanes closed and rerouted us onto surface streets with no explanation.

It took longer to get home. I found a message on my answering machine from my friend. "Are you okay? Call me as soon as you get this." I did.

He told me about the explosion: two trains hit head-on under the bridges that carried the highway across the railroad tracks. Both bridges burned. We did the math. If my car had started when I wanted to leave, I would have been on the eastbound bridge when the trains collided.

I drove that car everywhere for several more years. It never failed to start again.

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This story was featured in the October 2023 Newsletter.

 

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Have you had a close call driving?
Please contact Sandy.

 

Sandy with Lotus 7A Denver CO

 

 

1976 Triumph TR-7 and Sandy Reay, with trophies from racing

 

 

Sandy Triumph TR7 Englewood CO

 

Times I Didn't Die (Cars)

1. My husband and I sold our TR-3 and bought a Lotus 7A. It was a race car built from a kit: aluminum tubes and panels. Fenders, to make it street legal, were aluminum, bolted on. Leather-like window panels with plexiglass to see through could be mounted on the doors. A removable roof over
aluminum tubes could be snapped on in bad weather. It was low to the ground: a fair-weather car, suitable for sunny days and racing.

Our Lotus was factory built in England, bright yellow, and right hand drive. Someone imported it to the US and brought it to Denver. The doors opened, but it was easier to step over them into the car, and slide down to low cushions set on the floor. Our straight legs fit into narrow spaces along the drive shaft.

One day, my husband drove us for a ride. I sat in the passenger seat on the left. On a major street near our house, a long-nose semi pulled up behind us. The light was long. The semi driver inched forward. The light didn't change. The truck inched forward. Again.

Wide-eyed, my husband turned toward me. “The driver forgot we're here. Stand up.”

I popped my seat belt, whirled, and shot up in front of the driver, waving my arms and bouncing up and down on the seat.

His eyes like white golf balls popped out of his pale face. He slammed on the brakes and mouthed, “I'm sorry.”

My husband said, “Good job. Now, sit down. The light's green.”


2. I had a 1976 TR-7 and raced it one day at Englewood Speedway. One of the sports car clubs set up an autocross (gymkhana) there, and we got to race one car at a time on the banked oval and figure-8, on a course marked with pylons. I was used to pylon-marked courses on unused runways and parking lots.

I watched the bigger cars going around the banked turns with their wheels at an odd angle. My husband explained about "opposite lock" (turning the opposite direction from the curve which causes the car to slide) and "drifting" (a theoretically-controlled slide in the direction you want to go). “You do the entire curve under full-power, and when you come out of the curve, you straighten the wheel, still under full power.” It's the fastest way to drive through a banked corner.

I understood the theory and knew my car. I tried it. Opposite lock into a drift was easy. And a rush.

Things I didn't think about:
1. If the sideways tires scrub off too much speed, the front-wheels stop sliding.
2. My car was not powerful enough to keep this from happening.
3. Once the slide stops, the front tires grip the pavement, and the car makes an unexpected 90-degree turn. Into the wall.
4. I didn't know this would happen until it was too late.
5. The driver gets slammed sideways.
6. Lucky drivers get the car under control before they hit anything.

Even in a helmet, my head slammed into the side of the roof of my car. I heard bells. I saw spots.

And, I got lucky.

Afterward, someone said my husband stood on the other side of that wall and shouted, "She's gonna hit the wall," before he followed the others who ran to safety. A friend told me that I missed the concrete chute wall (the entrance onto the oval track) by about an inch. I got the car back under control in the extra space the chute provided.

A muscle-car driver offered to let me try it again in his car.

“No, thanks. I think I learned my lesson.” Sometimes I wondered what driving a car like that would have felt like.

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Times I Didn't Die: More Dreams Sandy Reay playing upright bass

 

Times I Didn't Die: More Dreams Sandy Reay playing guitar

 

Times I Didn't Die: More Dreams Sandy Reay playing bass guitar with Randy Rahl

 


This story was featured in the January 2024 Newsletter.

 

 

 

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Have you had premonitions about dying?
Have you ever had a dream or an angel keep you from harm?
Please contact Sandy.

 

Times I Didn't Die: More Dreams

I lost my corporate job due a year after 9/11. Web work and music saved me. I played music in different bands, in a variety of venues: Renaissance Festivals, Victorian Dances, music society events, on a cruise ship, on stages at outdoor concerts and music festivals, in recording studios and bars. A lot of bars. Too many bars, too late at night, too far from home.

1. I was driving home alone from a gig in a bar on a long straight stretch of empty rural highway, doing about 80-85 miles per hour. My eyes hurt. I closed them.

A voice said, “Open your eyes.” There was no one else in my car.

“My eyes hurt.” Was I talking to a ghost? I was okay with that.

“Sandy, open your eyes now.”

“No. They hurt.” Was I arguing with a figment of my imagination? Ghost/figment was getting on my nerves.

“If you open your eyes, I'll give you a present.”

“What present?” Yeah, I was negotiating with something that was trying to save my life.

“Tomorrow.”

“You won't tell me until tomorrow?” And I was losing the negotiation.

“Tomorrow. You'll get it tomorrow.”

I opened my eyes and swerved in time to keep my car from running off the road in the curve at the end of the long straight. I didn't run up the embankment and get stuck on the railroad tracks. Or roll my car over back onto the highway.

I got another tomorrow. And thousands since then.

My housemate told me about guardian angels and how to communicate with them. A friend of mine told me that I have at least four guardian angels—she saw them behind me. Other friends asked me to lend them an angel or two.

I told a friend who'd lived in the area for many years about the voice that saved my life. He told me stories about that particular curve in the road being a source of strange stories, some involving wagons, cars or trains. The strangest was about an armored truck that ran off the road and rolled over in a blizzard at the place where I almost crashed. Boxes of coins spilled out on the road and in the ditch. The men climbed their way out out of the drifts and to the nearest house.

They woke first thing in the morning and shoveled their way back to their truck. The coins were gone.


2. One night, I had a dream in which I was working with other people in an old part of Denver. We were creating a single store for a non-profit organization. Our job was to create a large space out of three store fronts. We'd knocked holes in the walls between stores, and we cleaned out the storefront to the north.

It was late at night. I went to get drinks from the refrigerator in the south store. When I walked through the middle store, someone looked at me through the front glass door and shot me through the glass.

I left my bleeding body on the floor and hovered against the high ceiling, looking down on my friends and co-workers standing around my body. I didn't see lights or angels. I didn't see anything else until I opened my eyes the next morning.

A musician friend of my wanted to set up a non-profit space for artists and musicians. I offered to help him—until I drove past the space he'd purchased: three old store fronts with glass doors in an old part of Denver, facing east. The rooms where I'd been in my dream, when I was shot and died.

I helped him with web work and fund raisers. But I couldn't go into the space until it was finished. I went to one concert, where he performed. I took photos and posted them on my web site, but I never went back again.

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Savoir Faire, 35-pound mixed breed dog

This story was featured in the September 2023 Newsletter.

If you want a micro-memoir delivered to your email once a month, sign up for eMail.

Have you had a dog save you?
Please contact Sandy.

 

Read and see more about Savoir Faire in McCavity, A Real-life Mystery Cat

 

 

Walter Rosebud, Colombian Rainbow Boa Constrictor

 

Have you had an unusual pet?
Please contact Sandy.

 

Times I Didn't Die: Pets

1. My husband and I got a puppy from our neighbor, the runt of her litter. Our eighteen pound tuxedo cat, McCavity the Mystery Cat, raised her. We named her when she fell off a step and landed on her head in her water dish. We said, “Savoir Faire.” Sarcasm. McCavity rescued a kitten who could stretch out on the palm of my hand.

Faire was half English Setter. Her father was a German Shepherd Husky mix. Faire looked more like her mother and had a gentle mouth. She weighed thirty-five pounds and played fetch the kitty.

My husband and I moved to be closer to his job in Denver. I was alone during the day. Someone knocked on the door. I opened it to find a strange man holding the storm door open, one foot on the step, ready to launch himself into my house. I tried to close the door, but he held it open.

Faire dashed around me and growled. Her head was the height of his knee. But she growled like she meant it, channeling her father.

My would-be intruder backed up and slammed the storm door shut, yelling something. I closed and locked the door. Faire got treats.

2. For Valentines Day, my husband bought me a baby Colombian Rainbow Boa Constrictor. Once a month, we put a mouse in his terrarium, and most of the time, he caught it. One month, he missed so many times, the mouse raced around, sat up in a
corner, shivered, and fell over. I think it died of a heart attack.

Years later, the snake reached his full length, about 5-6'. Other than feeding and shedding, he was not an active pet. We called him Walter, after an Old English Sheepdog in an episode of Bonanza, in which the dog laid on his side and never moved.

When we got divorced, Faire moved to a house with my ex-husband. Walter, McCavity, and I moved into a townhouse. As a joke, someone gave me a “Beware of Snake” sign, which I put in the front window. A friend asked how I would defend myself if someone broke in.

“I'd grab McCavity and throw him at the intruder: I don't cut his nails, and he's eighteen pounds of muscle. He'd shred an intruder.”

I got my hair permed. Walter loved to crawl around on my head, when I let him out of his cage. He'd hook the tip of his tail under my jaw and explore my curls.

One day, someone knocked on the door. Again, I opened it to find a man poised to enter my house: his foot on the step. He pushed the door farther open. “You don't really have
a snake, do you?” He laughed.

“Yes, I do.”

Walter raised his head and flicked his tongue. A warm body that's not mine could be food. Until he bit it, he didn't know how big it was. His head shot toward the intruder's nose.

That man recoiled, stumbled off the step, and grabbed the doorknob to keep his balance. The door slammed shut, and he ran away.

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Ponte Vecchio Florence Italy rain

 

wild goats Montana

 

wild goats Montana

 

wild goats Montana


This story was featured in the April 2024 Newsletter.

 

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Have you had a close call while taking a photograph?
Please contact Sandy.

 

Times I Didn't Die: Photographs

1. Family Trip, Florence Italy, Aug 1984

We were first through the door to the Uffizi Galleria. Knowing people will follow one another up, I headed up the stairs toward “The Birth of Venus” (aka Venus on the Half-Shell). It had just come back from being cleaned and restored. And I had it all to myself, sitting on a bench, memorizing every detail, until the crowd made it up to the top floor and pushed in front of me.

I wandered around that floor and found a small room off to one side. It was filled with portraits, mostly of men, all by Rembrandt. My tour of the top floor led me to an open window. I leaned out and spied the far half of the Ponte Vecchio (which crossed the Rio Arno), the oldest bridge in the city.

I leaned out the window to get the best shot: a view of the full bridge in the rain.

The old building had thick walls, measured in feet, not inches. I wiggled forward on my stomach. The outside wall ran down into the river. Which I could see when I glanced down. And, someone holding a bright yellow umbrella walked under an arch.

My sister grabbed the waistband of my jeans and pulled me back in. Or tried to.

“Let go. I have to get this shot.” I fumbled with my camera.

“You're going to die.”

“I'm fine.” I braced my elbows down the side of the building, leaning further out, and caught one shot before the yellow umbrella disappeared into the darkness. And realized how far out I was leaning.

My sister pulled me back in.


2. Logan Pass, Glacier National Park MT, July 1985

Same camping trip as the Hellgate fire, driving on a rutted dirt road, looking for a camping spot. We passed a herd of mountain goats. My friend stopped and lit his pipe. I grabbed my camera and the long-distance lens. Wearing sandals and cut-off jeans, I pushed through the brush and eased down the
gravel-covered slope to get the best angle: two goats climbing down into the far side of a ravine. I had to inch further down the steep slope to get a shot with white water.

I didn't notice where they went after they crossed the gorge. I stopped shooting when all the goats crossed the ravine.

I was surrounded by goats. The young ones butted each other; the older goats checked me out. They'd walked up the path I was on—their path—under my camera lens.

I tried to turn around on the slope. Each quarter-inch I shifted, I slid down another inch or two. Some of
the bigger goats wanted to check my pockets. The small ones quit butting each other and headed
toward me. One gentle push and I would slide down on my butt (if I was lucky) into the snow-melt water in the rocky ravine.

I smelled smoke. My friend, puffing on his pipe and wearing hiking boots, had crept down the slope toward me. He held out his hand. I just had to push between two goats to reach it. One bit my back pocket. It probably smelled crumbs from a granola bar.

I leaned toward my friend and stretched. He grabbed my wrist just as the goat let go of my pocket. One not-so-gentle push from the disappointed goat, and I slid through the brush, pulled up by my friend.

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Times I Didn't Die: Rafting Sandy with JR, Moose & Big John

 

 

 

Times I Didn't Die: Rafting on calm water

 

 

 

 


This story was featured in the February 2024 Newsletter.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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sign up for eMail.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Have you had a close call in a raft or boat?
Have you ever had a dream or an angel keep you from harm?
Please contact Sandy.

 

Times I Didn't Die: Rafting

1. JR was 6'6” tall. I met him when I helped a friend move. He was carrying a refrigerator down a flight of stairs, holding it under one arm.

JR's annual July 4th weekend party near Penrose CO. He invited me to run the lower Arkansas River. I'd been on one raft trip and couldn't wait to do more.

Signs warned rafters to stay out of the flood-stage water. JR asked if we still wanted to go. Three of us said, “Yes.” I wanted to be in the front of the raft.

JR put me in the middle of the raft, the safest place. Big John and Moose rode up front, to help hold the nose down. The two aptly-named men blocked my view.

We hit a huge wave. The front end flipped up and tossed the two men into the center of the raft. On top of me. A forearm larger than my thigh came at me. Daylight disappeared. Red and yellow pain flashed in my eyes. And brain. I couldn't breathe.

JR kept the raft off the boulders and walls of the canyon. Moose and Big John clawed their way to the front of the raft. One man apologized for hitting me. As if he could have prevented it.

A bandana soaked in snow-melt water on my broken nose helped keep the swelling down. And waves washed off my blood.


2. JR, his girlfriend, and I took a day off to float down the Colorado River from Hot Sulphur Springs to State Bridge. It was scenic and an easy day trip—perfect for beginners—but not the day we chose. The river flooded both banks.

JR set up his oar boat. We loaded it with a cooler, tarps to throw on the ground for a picnic lunch, sun screen, hats, and—just in case—plastic raincoats and ponchos. No rubber boots to wade through the flooded field. Just tennis shoes.

The high fast water through the canyon kept JR busy. But, he pulled over when people on a bank in the canyon yelled and waved. A friend of theirs had crashed his kayak in a curve down river and was injured. They hoped JR could rescue him. Other rafts queued up in case JR couldn't do it.

JR tried, but the turn was too tight, and the current swept us away.

The canyon widened. We pulled over to a high dry spot for lunch. Clouds rolled in. A few raindrops fell. We loaded up and headed for State Bridge, hoping for a brief storm, a warm meal, and a colorful sunset.

Lightning and thunder. We put on raincoats and ponchos. The sky filled with thick dark clouds. Light rain became a torrent. We huddled under layers of tarps while lightning struck the water around us. We peeked out to spot a familiar building, hoping we wouldn't find ourselves miles past the takeout. Or get struck by lightning loading out.


3. “Have you ever rafted the Platte River, through Denver?” Only JR would start a phone call like that.

“No. Why?”

“Record high water. It's the first time we could raft it from the Douglas County Line to North Denver.”

“I'm in.” No portaging a raft to avoid dams that tore up rubber rafts going over them.

We set out Saturday morning, and floated through Littleton and Englewood. JR pulled into an eddy and threw a loop around a tree trunk. “You want to get out now?”

“Why?”

“Because dead dog dam is right up there. And a guy drowned trying to go over it two days ago. I'll pick
you up on the other side.”

“No.”

Compared to our previous raft trips, running dams was child's play. Past the dams, JR let me steer to the takeout. He lazed in the boat smoking a cigar.


4. My boyfriend and I ran the Salmon River, Idaho, in his oar-driven raft. We had to run a chute on the near side of a high waterfall. Armed with my new camera, I squeezed behind his seat to take pictures of the chute.

“That's the worst place to be if I miss the chute. You'll be thrown out of the raft.”

“Don't miss the chute.”

He missed the chute. The current dragged us over the waterfall down into a hole. The raft folded like a taco. Water swirled back into the hole, pushing the water-logged boat back into the waterfall.

My friend threw himself forward to put more weight on the front of the raft, yelling, "High side." His order to join him.

Still clutching the back of his chair, I swung around, and an oar slammed into my head. I fell into the seat and grabbed the oars to keep them from swinging around again. And pulled on them. A reflex. It helped move the raft forward. I pulled harder, and the raft made it up and out of the hole. I steered us to the river bank. My head throbbed. Details were fuzzy.

My boyfriend jumped out, tied up the boat, and climbed up a rock to pose. I stood up. Dizzy. One finger hurt. Blood dripped into the water.

Our friends floated by and yelled, "Are you okay?"

My friend waved. "We’re good.”

"Sandy, are you okay?” A voice from the river.

"I think I broke a fingernail."

My boyfriend climbed back down to the boat. “You 'broke a fingernail?' That's the epitome of cool.”

I showed him my finger (the one missing a fingernail) and the lump on the side of my head. He showed me his first aid skills.

If I had been in my “safe place” in the front of the boat when we went over the falls, I would have fallen out, and the boat would have landed on me. PS. My camera was undamaged. And I didn't get any pictures.

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Times I Didn't Die: Snakes billboard with Time for a little R&R

 

 

Times I Didn't Die: Snakes plane dropping slurry on Hellgate fire

 


This story was featured in the March 2024 Newsletter.

 

 

 

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Times I Didn't Die: Snakes

1. Missoula MT

Hellgate Canyon, east of Missoula MT, was burning out of control less than a mile away, and the message on the billboard was too ironic to pass by. Wearing cutoffs, a t-shirt, and flip flops, I trotted down a tire track in a field.

As I adjusted the f-stop, light, and focus on my all-manual camera, I heard a rustling in the weeds behind me. It sounded like a mouse fussing with a piece of cellophane, perhaps from a package of cigarettes. Because that was a more comfortable mental image than the alternative.

I didn't turn around. Just snapped the photo and got out of there. When I got back to the car, I told my friend about the rustling noise.

“It was a rattlesnake. The fire's driving critters into town. You probably shoulda gotten out of there pronto.”

“I did. Right after I got the shot.” One shot. Not tack-sharp.


2. Salmon River ID

On a group raft trip, some kayakers tromping through the forest cornered a rattlesnake and were poking it with sticks. The full-grown rattler had killed a large white rat, and wanted to eat, but it felt threatened. It curled up, shaking its rattle, mouth open, poised to strike.

I had my camera bag slung over my shoulder. Pissed off at the treatment of the rattler by the behavior of the others, I squatted down and spoke to the snake. It stared at me, still in strike position, tongue flickering.

Bored and/or annoyed, the others left. Moving as little as possible, I changed the lens on my camera. I couldn't change the high film speed or the dim light under the thick trees. And, the snake had killed the rat in an ancient cabin, beyond the reach of whatever sunlight leaked in through the doorway.

My camera made a clicking noise. The snake's head shot up each time I shot a picture. After a few clicks—and some soothing words—the snake decided to eat the rat.

When snakes swallow, they are defenseless. They aren't much better at defending themselves after they've swallowed their prey whole; they hide while they ingest their pray. I finished a roll of film about the time the rat's tail disappeared through the snake's teeth. Like a child slurping up one spaghetti noodle.

The snake raised its head and stared at me. Then it turned and squeezed through a hole in the back wall of the cabin.

I photographed the entire consumption of a rat by a rattlesnake from two feet away. But the shots were too grainy to print.

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Times I Didn't Die: St. Louis, Missouri
The Gateway Arch, St. Louis

 

 

 

St Louis Eads Bridge and Gateway Arch
The Gateway Arch, Eads Bridge, Mississippi River

 

 

 

 


This story was featured in the November 2023 Newsletter.

 

 

 

 

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The Sinister Umbrella takes place in St. Louis, MO

The main character can see the Gateway Arch and LaCledes Landing from her window.

 

Times I Didn't Die: St. Louis, Missouri

1. My company sent me to a computer training class in St. Louis for two weeks. The class was in a tech center with corporate complexes on large areas of lawns, hills and trees. The only motel “within walking distance” was a La Quinta with a Denny's restaurant. Because I could walk to class (about a mile away), the company wouldn't pay for a rental car. After five days of meals at Denny's, food in the vending machine outside the classroom looked better.

By Saturday morning, I wanted to see the Gateway Arch and eat in good restaurants. I rode the free shuttle to the airport and bought a bus ticket to Downtown. Armed with a tourist map of the city, I plopped down on the seat closest to the door for the view out the front and side windows. As we drove, I kept track on the map and read the street signs from the side window, made semi-opaque from chips and scratches. The bus filled up, standing room only, but I focused on the scenery.

Something hissed. I looked around. A small older black woman sat next to me, pointing an umbrella with a sharply-honed tip at the standing people glaring at me.

I hunched my shoulders and thought about getting off the bus. No. That would be more dangerous than staying on. I stared out the side window until we drove through an area of warehouses and empty streets and parking lots. I turned to see the Arch many blocks away. The now-almost-empty bus stopped at a corner.

I stood up and nodded at the woman with the umbrella, “Thank you.”

She glared at me. “You find another way to go home, white girl.”


2. Forcing myself to ignore my fear of heights, I rode to the top of the Gateway Arch and looked out the window. A helicopter flew under the Arch. I managed to get back to the cable car and huddled in it, whimpering, until it took me safely to solid ground again.

I took refuge in the Ladies room until the shaking stopped. I wiped the last tears away and walked to Lacledes Landing. After surviving the bus and the Arch, walking alone in the empty lots and spooky warehouses was a piece of cake.

LaCledes Landing was worth it. I got lunch in a little cafe, gazed at handcrafted and tourist items in shops, and talked to a young man working in one of the shops. I told him about my bus ride and how I wanted to go to the big park and rent a bike the next day.

He shook his head. “Don't go to that park. You were lucky to survive the bus ride.” He rang up my small purchase, a souvenir to bring back for a friend. “I get off work at nine. I'll drive you back to your motel. Go to this club.” He pointed to a building on my map. “The food and music are great. I'll meet you there.”

Around 10 pm, I wondered if he would show up. He did, in time to rescue me from a drunk who had spilled beer on my pale blue suede jacket. We had dinner and listened to the band. My new friend suggested we walk out over the Mississippi River on the Eads Bridge (a 19th century steel truss bridge).

I agreed until I saw it. “I'm afraid of heights.” I told him about the Arch and the helicopter.

“They're not supposed to fly under the Arch. It's illegal. Try the bridge. It's not as high and it's a great view.”

I trusted him. He was right. Climbing up wasn't a problem. I felt safe to walk out over the water. The view of the river and the lights of the city was magical.

“Why aren't you afraid of this height?”

“Because it's over water.” I never said my fears were rational.

The stairs down, over land, were a challenge. He offered to hold my hand, but both fists were clenched on the handrail.

We walked the empty streets of Lacledes Landing back to his car. On the way to my motel, a significant drive northwest, he told me about his fiance and their plan to camp in the Rocky Mountains for their honeymoon. He mentioned that he lived in a town in Illinois, across the Mississippi River in the opposite direction, a farther distance from Lacledes Landing than my motel. He dropped me off at the front door of the LaQuinta.

“I wish I could do something to thank you.”

“You can. Send me lots of information about camping in Colorado.” He gave me his name and address.

I sent him a box of all the material I could get from the tourist board and various stores that sold hiking and camping gear. I told my friends back home about my adventure. They convinced me I was lucky my good samaritan was not a serial rapist-killer.


3. With my plan to bike in the big park shot down, I decided to walk around the empty corporate park. Flowers bloomed. A stream meandered through lawns dotted with ponds and decorative rocks, shrubbery, and trees. I took photographs and let my thoughts wander. I found the back of a sign that said, “No trespassing.”

I walked out of the restricted area to a paved drive. I grew up knowing mountains are West. Where are they when you really need them? Using the sign with the street number to find my location on my map, and my memory of the way I'd gotten there, I plotted an alternate way back to the motel.

Two armed security guards caught me. The tall older man unfolded from the security car. “What are you doing here?” He was perfectly cast: short hair, narrow eyes, permanent scowl, and a large gun on one hip.

Me, wearing cut-off jeans, a t-shirt with flowers, running shoes, and a camera hanging from my neck: “Taking a computer class.” I smiled.

“No. What were you doing on property with signs that say, 'No Trespassing'?”

“I was walking on the grass, following the stream, and didn't see a sign until that one.” I pointed to the offending sign. “I didn't even see a building.”

The two men looked at each other. Tall man: “We could call the police and have you arrested.”

“Why not? I almost started a race riot on the bus yesterday. And I had to hitchhike back from LaClede's Landing late last night.”

With encouragement, I told them about the bus ride (stares and shaking heads), the helicopter under the Gateway Arch (“It's illegal.” “You saw that?”), and my ride at midnight with a total stranger (“You didn't know that guy. You coulda been killed.” “Where are you from?”).

“Denver, Colorado.” Hanging my head as if my home town was something to be ashamed of.

“We're gonna let you go.” The tall man returned to the car to call someone. The other smiled and whispered. “We watched you on the cameras. We knew you weren't a spy.”

“What is this place?” Duh. No spy career for me.

He rolled his eyes. “I can't tell you that. Just stay on the roads. Okay?”

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Times I Didn't Die: Dog Dream: Dove and Savoir Faire
Dove and Savior Faire

Times I Didn't Die: The Dog Dream: Casey and Spirit
Casey and Spirit

 Times I Didn't Die: The Dog Dream: Zapp
Zapp

This story was featured in the December 2023 Newsletter.

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Have you had an unusual dreams?
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Times I Didn't Die: The Dog Dream

During a bout of bronchitis (around 2015), I was in bed on an oxygen machine day and night for 5-6 weeks.

I stood barefoot on a rough wood deck in back of a cabin. The sun shone in a clear sky. I was young, thin, healthy again. Thick brown hair hung down to my waist. “I have eight dogs running loose in the forest.”

A man stood next to me. Tall, lean, tan, dark hair, dark eyes. “You round them up. I'll fix the fence.”

I stepped down into lush grass, still dewy, and walked around the cabin. The fence, an orange construction fence, lay flat in the grass. I stepped over it and walked to the front yard, which was shaded by tall pines. The lower branches on the pines grew above my head. Birds twittered in the trees.

Three of my dogs, Faire, Dove, and Casey, saw me and raced to me. I knelt and held them in my arms. Sun-warmed fur, smelling like pine trees, tickled my cheeks, neck, and arms. They licked my face. They were young and healthy again.

I heard a waterfall from behind some bushes. Two more dogs, Zapp and Spirit, ran out of the bushes and stopped when they saw me. Zapp bounced up and down, like he used to do on my bed. I smiled at them. They wagged their tails and disappeared into the bushes.

I stood up. And woke in my bed, drenched in sweat. The fever broke.

But the dream felt real—a full-sensory experience with no time or space gaps, as if I'd crossed over and come back. No shining light. No angels. No out-of-body feeling. Just five dogs waiting for me. Faire was the oldest, raised by McCavity the Mystery Cat. She died in 1988. Zapp was the last to die, in 2012.

I've had two or three dogs at a time for the last 31 years. Faire was the only puppy I adopted since I was an adult. All my dogs since her have been older rescues or fosters from breeders. Sometimes, rescue dogs come bonded to other people.

In my dream, I said, “I have eight dogs ….” Crash (d. 2021) and Leo (d. 2023) are numbers six and seven. I told them bedtime stories about the five dogs they would meet when it was time for them to cross over.

Now I am dogless. Another dog will find me. And that dog will need a companion. One of them will be the eighth dog.